Free at Last!
Free at Last!
Notes from the Field – Special Edition
By Stewart Metz and Bonnie Zimmermann
It’s 8:00 a.m. on a sunny Seram morning. There is electricity in the air and all eyes are on the habituation cage and the three Seram cockatoos. There are two blinds near the cage, one manned by the Project Bird Watch team, the other with the camera crew from Manusela National Park. The birds definitely know that something is about to happen. Previously, each bird had been fitted with an open stainless-steel leg band; marked with an Avid micro- chip; and had its tail feathers marked a different color with ‘indelible’ ink.
Now, the birds are about to regain their freedom — if they want it, after all this time in captivity. If so, it would be the realization of a dream for Project Bird Watch, something that two short years ago we thought we could never attain.
Witnessing this event were many of the people from the village of Masihulan, and the children from several schools. This pelepasan (or release) is a major event for Project Bird Watch and Yayasan Wallacea, and hopefully a new beginning for many endangered birds to go back to their forest homes.
Pak Ir. M (Theo) Latupeirissa, Head of the Department of Forestry for Manusela National Park, had the honors of opening the release door atop the the large (30 x 9 x 9 ft) habituation (pre-release) cage. He climbs up the ladder and reaches for the latch holding down the escape hatch —
Let’s fast-rewind to Thursday, September 23rd, 2004. The PBW Team was just about to leave for our eco-tour to Seram when we heard that Officers from Manusela National park had confiscated nine “Salmon-crested” (Seram) cockatoos, two Eclectus parrots and five Red-cheeked parrots. The National Park officers were accompanied by the police and military police and arrested a smuggler from Sulawesi. The birds had been bought from members of Huaulu village (an indigenous people located on the mountains about 20 km from Opin).
When PBW arrived in Seram, we visited Pak Joel. Katayane, who led the confiscation, to thank him for his help. Pak Katayane is currently the director of the northwest section of Manusela National Park. His responsibility is to protect the parks flora and fauna from exploitation and illegal activity. Traveling with us were Drs. Wahyu (“Wita”) Widyayandani and Resit Sozer, of the PPS Jaringan (Indonesian Wild Animal Rescue Network)
When we arrived at the forestry department the birds were not in good shape. Several had died, and they were still in the cages from the trappers. They were considered police evidence and we were very worried that the remaining birds would not survive.
The team broke up into two groups –Wita, Resit and Ceisar Riupassa, Director of Yayasan Wallacea stayed in Masohi to try to release the birds from legal custody, and the rest of the team proceeded to Sawai where we gathered the materials to build a forest cage and find food for the birds. Late afternoon the next day, Ceisar, Wita and Resit arrived with the birds obtained after difficult negotiations. The birds were still in some degree of shock and incredibly dirty. We took them to the forest cages immediately. At that precise moment, Kembali Bebas Avian Rehabilitation Center was created.
Fast forward 18 months. During that period the number of confiscated birds at Kembali Bebas has reached more than 120. Many tasks had to be accomplished and numerous obstacles overcome to reach this point —the day of release.
The moment is finally here. The tension is palpable. What will they do?
Suddenly there is movement inside of the cage. One bird, climbs near the opening, hanging upside down from the roof of the cage and assesses the situation. It takes only a moment. He moves towards the opening, and then his head pops up (see photograph) above the cage. He looks around, emerges, gives his tail a shake and flies off to the nearby trees strong and sure of himself.
Then only a few minutes later, the second bird follows suit. His emergence and flight is as natural as if he was flying from tree to tree. The third bird takes a little longer, but he too, can’t resist the chance to go back into the forest and soon has joined the others in the nearby trees. In less than fifteen minutes the birds have rejoined their wild family – an achievement that took eighteen months to prepare.
At long last, Kebali Bebas has at least begun to live up to the meaning of its name—”Return to Freedom.” Hopefully, this will be the first of many such releases, able to be carried out with the indispensable help of Pak Ceisar Riupassa, Manager of the Center and Director of Yayasan Wallacea. For decades, people have ripped these magnificent cockatoos from their forest homes and from their families. Now, former trappers and their friends and colleagues—Pak Ali, Buce, Peter, Ois, Vino, Sony, Nopes, and others, joined hands with the rest of us, and restored three cockatoos back to their rightful place as Lords of the Air, flying free over Seram Island.
Dr. Donald Brightsmith Joins Indonesian Parrot Project
We are proud to announce that Dr. Donald Brightsmith has joined Project Bird Watch as our Scientific Advisor.
Don currently is a Research Associate at Duke University Department of Biology (USA); Research Director and Macaw Project Director, Rainforest Expeditions, Peru; and he has just recently accepted a faculty position at Texas A&M. He is currently the Director of the world-renowned Tambopata Macaw Project, a multi-disciplinary project dedicated to the study and conservation of large macaws and parrots at the Tambopata Research Center in southeastern Peru.
Don brings a vast amount of experience to Project Bird Watch. He received his Ph.D. in 1999 in Zoology, from Duke University; his MS in Wildlife Ecology from the University of Arizona, his BS in Natural Resources with honors and distinctions from Cornell University, and spent a year at Oxford University, England, studying Zoology. He is universally acclaimed as a superb teacher and mentor.
Don has dedicated his entire career to the study of birds in the wild. His research contributions span an impressive range of topics in avian ecology and biology. Don has a great professional interest in parrot reintroduction and other parrot conservation issues.
We are extremely pleased to have Don join the Project Bird Watch Team!
Smugglers and trappers don’t only deal in wild adult birds, chicks bring a much higher price to the pet trade. Improper care, lack of food and stress is incredibly hard on these chicks. When we arrived for the release in March, we were not prepared for babies. But they were there. The Seram cockatoo chick in this photo died of long standing, profound starvation only hours after this picture was taken. We must do something to help.
Help Us Help Them
We have made the commitment to protect these birds and conserve their habitat. It takes a lot of money, time and things. Help us by being creative. Have a club fund raiser, talk to your local businesses, or bird clubs. There are lots of things we need to help the birds that can be purchased here and brought to Indonesia.
We already can’t thank each and every one of you for your support and encouragement. But now the program is growing and we need more help. Below is our WISH LIST. These are things we need to move the program forward.
If you would like to donate one of these items (or raise the money to purchase one) please call Bonnie Zimmermann (707) 965-3480 first to make sure we don’t duplicate our efforts. If we all contribute small, we win BIG!
Among the things which we need to take to Indonesia:
- Large containers of Prime Avian Vitamins
- Hand feeding formula for chicks
- Lory Food (Nectar mix in powder form)
- Stainless steel food bowls and locking rings
- Digital scale, perch and bowl for weighing birds
- Avian intensive care unit/incubator
- Veterinary Reference books
- Avid Microchips for identification
- Leg bands for identification
- Set of Elizabethan collars (for birds recovering from injuries)
- Lory bathing bowls
- Toys and enrichment for sanctuary birds
- Two laptop computers for recordkeeping
- Printing donation for various projects
- Avian medical supplies
- Pipettes, hand feeding tools
- Pediatric stethscope
- Waterproof cage cards for recordkeeping
There are also opportunities to underwrite socialization, quarantine and sanctuary cages. Call Bonnie for details. Thanks for all your support!
Rosemary Low Special Guest on Seram Eco Tour
We are very excited that Rosemary Low will be among our guests—and our Resident Expert—on the 2006 Eco-tour to Seram. As most of you know, Ms. Low has contributed greatly to our appreciation, knowledge and caring for all species of psittacines and in virtually all aspects from their breeding to their in-home care to their conservation. To quote the renowned conservationist Nigel Collar, “She is, very simply, the great European authority on psittacine birds in captivity, their treatment and breeding…I remain in awe today.”
For nine years, Ms. Low worked with more than 200 species of parrots as Curator of Birds at both Loro Parque and Palmitos Park, both being in the Canary Islands. Rosemary is author of countless journal and magazine articles , and has written over 30 books, including some of special relevance to this trip: the Hancock House Encyclopedia of the Lories (the “bible” about the lorinae) Endangered Parrots; and Cockatoos in Aviculture. One of her more recent books, Fabulous Feathers Remarkable Birds, published in 2003, is a remarkable and absolutely fascinating ode to the magical creatures which we call ‘birds’, based on her personal experiences around the world.
In addition to all this, Ms. Low has been a strong proponent of the compassionate and humane treatment of all birds and other animals in our care, and an inspiration to countless students of the psittacines (including all of us at PBW). We are looking forward to this special treat of having Rosemary join us on our trip to Seram.
Interested? There are still two spots available but the trip is filling up fast.
Kembali Bebas Store Opens in New York
Our new store “Kembali Bebas” opens in mid May. Its strong Indonesian theme is reflected in its bamboo and grass wall coverings, painted sky blue ceiling with scattered clouds, and a faux coconut palm tree, placed in the middle of the store. Custom plantation teak jewelry cases, will be filled with handcrafted silver jewelry purchased in Bali, and photos of the silversmiths will be displayed along with the jewelry. Silk and cotton sarongs, handbags, and women’s clothing will be sold as well.
Project Bird Watch will be highlighted by the check- out counter, with photos of Seram hanging on the wall behind the counter. Info on the project, business cards, and a book entitled “Kembali Bebas”, that PBW’s CFO, Lorraine Otto is self-publishing, will be available at the counter.
All of the store’s packaging has the KB logo printed on it, as well as “Amagansett, New York—Seram, Maluku”. This ties in the store with the rehab center, and is a great conversation starter, when people ask questions about the locations. 2% of all the proceeds from the sales of the merchandise, will be donated to Project Bird Watch, to help with the operating costs of Kembali Bebas on Seram.
Tribute to Sopi
We have lost a dear friend this March, ironically at exactly the precise time as we were releasing the birds.
Fifteen minutes after the release had been completed, we were notified of the death of Sopi, who had been one of the most proficient trappers on Seram, but gave up trapping and instead became an indispensable colleague and deeply loved friend at Kembali Bebas. We were told that right up until his final moment, he had been asking whether we had arrived yet and whether we had released the cockatoos. He was buried the next day in Masihulan village.
Sopi was an inspiration to all of us. We would like to dedicate not only this pelepasan to Pak Sopi, but also to re-dedicate our continuing efforts in memory of this noble man.
It seems ironic that our best photo we have of Sopi was taken with him inside a bird cage, as we were trying to create a slogan about having to live imprisoned, like a bird, in a cage. The day that the cockatoos flew, Sopi’s spirit surely must have soared with them. Selamat jalan, Sopi